Going for a Drive

curiosity_driverAt JPL the other day, I stood next to this gentleman as he prepared to take over the controls of the Curiosity craft (now on the surface of Mars, you might recall) for a bit of driving. I don’t know where it was being taken to or from on that jaunt, but that was what was going to happen. And I was right in the control room! Fantastic. It is the control room that has been christened “the center of the universe” since the majority of all the spacecraft in the world’s communication comes through here, and every craft ever launched by NASA is or was controlled from here at some point.

More on this visit later. Too many things going on to blog them all, I’m afraid. Will have to update you later. Now I’ve got to get back to research for a bit. From the outside it mostly looks like I’m just finding more convoluted ways of plotting more dots, mostly.


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6 Responses to Going for a Drive

  1. Yvette says:

    Super cool- I visited that control room too actually, on that trip where we first met in the flesh. 🙂

  2. Clifford says:

    Yes! I recall. You were writing that article, and that was part of your research. High time you came back for another visit, by the way!


  3. Mark Peifer says:

    I am TOTALLY jealous–did you meet Mohawk Guy?

    PS your “captcha” totally defeated me today

  4. Clifford says:

    Hi! Well, we looked around the room that you might recall from the “7 Minutes of Terror” landing of Curiosity and watched the little film they made about it… Then “mohawk guy” came up in conversation and we were all talking about the value of his popularity to the public awareness of science and how great it was that this all got a longer (public) life in part due to him. I mentioned to my host (who’d not met him) that I met him in November since we both did talks at TEDYouth and we hung out in the green room for a while and chatted.

    Then on my way out of JPL (rushing to another meeting), while being escorted to the visitor center by my host, who should I run into on his way to the cafeteria? “Mohawk guy” (Bobak Ferdowsi)! So I got to say hi, introduce him to my host, and congratulate him for making that week’s special edition of LAWeekly of one of this year’s LA people.


  5. Indra says:

    I saw your video, it was inspirational to see you speak about the basic nature of reality. http://ed.ted.com/lessons/string-theory-and-the-hidden-structures-of-the-universe-clifford-johnson

    At 7:02 you talk about electron in certain circumstance would behave in a way that cannot be explain by standard model so String theory can step in and explain this.

    This was not clear to me, perhaps an example would help.



  6. Clifford says:


    Thanks for watching!

    I said “may” be able to help. We don’t know yet.

    I was trying to allude to a lot of work that is going on in physics concerning having lots of particles interacting strongly with each other, needing new techniques for describing the physics that results from this. The standard model does not really tell you much about situations like that since that is not what it was designed to address. So high density and strong coupling are new (and often very difficult) regimes of physics to address. So where do you find such situations? Well, everywhere! That last slide shows the person with that phone we started with… that phone contains solid state devices that have lots of electrons interacting in interesting ways. There are lots of interesting materials being designed that have such situations – and some of them reveal very novel phases of matter that have not been seen before. Similarly, nuclear matter exhibits novel phases at high density and temperature too, as seen in heavy ion collision experiments, the cores of compact stars, and so forth. There’s lots of novel physics resulting. One of the really interesting things to come out of studies of string theory is a collection of tools for describing (still quite simple) models of strongly interacting matter that have some of those properties that are seen in those situations… So many of us hope that we can shape those tools to be useful and relevant to understanding the real physics that’s going on in the experiments. We shall see.

    Difficult to get this across in a TED talk, but I threw in a tiny hint to get people’s curiosity going so that they might go and find out more. That’s exactly what you did!

    (see article like the one by Hong Liu in the June 2012 edition of Physics Today, page 68, and by myself and Peter Steinberg in the May 2010 edition of the same magazine, page 29.)